In a recent study, researchers measured the popularity of medical symptom searches on Google and discovered that the amount of such searches could help predict the incidence of COVID-19 cases that occur later in the week. .
While the most common symptoms associated with coronovirus can be things like cough, fever, and difficulty breathing, in this case, the researchers wanted to investigate whether COVID-19 cases in the search for a more specific subgroup of gastrointestinal (GI) and Whether or not there was a relationship between growth) symptoms due to the disease, such as abdominal pain and diarrhea.
“We identified common GI symptoms from previous studies for COVID-19 as search terms, including age ranges [loss of taste], Abdominal pain, loss of appetite, anorexia, diarrhea, and vomiting, “the team explains in its paper led by Imaha Ahmed, the first author and gastroenterologist at North Shore Medical Center in Salem, Massachusetts.
Using Google Trends, researchers have compared the amount of unknown searches for these conditions in the 15 US states against the alleged incidence of COVID-19 cases between the January and April periods of this year.
They found that Google search specific, general GI symptoms were indeed associated with subsequent coronovirus cases in most of the states studied, with the strongest relationships evident three to four weeks after the search.
While this is an important and potentially useful insight, it is not a completely surprising link. For many years, it has been well known that search engine queries can help alert us to things like influenza outbreaks.
So the main takeaway here is – as experts have suggested – the same technology can actually help inform us on the proliferation of COVID-19, potential clues that could be about becoming a suburb hotspot.
“Searches for GI symptoms have predicted an increase in predicted COVID-19, which is slightly higher than the one- to two-week lag time observed in earlier studies on influenza,” the authors write.
“The observed time difference may be related to differences in test availability, reporting or prolonged incubation period of COVID-19 as well as influenza.”
This tool is most useful in identifying correlations in areas that are already experiencing a high burden of disease: in this study, the states with the highest incidence of cases during the study period were New York, New Jersey, California, There were Massachusetts and Illinois.
Not all associated GI symptoms are strongly correlated with increased COVID-19 diagnosis, with age, loss of appetite, and diarrhea demonstrating the strongest link.
Another limitation of the study, the researchers acknowledge, is that it is difficult for the largely anonymous nature of the available search information in Google Trends to filter out confusing variables that may have an impact on the data.
With a view to helping health researchers, however, this month, Google announced that it could make this type of search data more widely available to scientists trying to detect COVID-19 incidents from search queries Is doing
The hope is that, with advanced access to more than 400 medical symptoms, signs, and conditions of interest and discovering trends, it will be easier for health professionals to visualize and predict the potential timing of coronovirus effects in the US.
For Ahmed and his team, it is already clear that technology can help a lot.
“Our data underscore the importance of GI symptoms as a potential precursor to COVID-19 infection and suggest that Google Trends may be a valuable tool for epidemic prediction with GI manifestations,” the researchers explained.
The findings are stated in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.